While getting ready to leave for the match I listened, as I usually do, to the sausage sandwich game on Danny Baker’s show. On Saturday one of the competitors was representing Watford. On a match day, something like this suddenly becomes immensely important. So I listened intently and, thankfully, Watford beat Bath City after extra time. An omen that all would be fine in the afternoon.
As always, there was a stringent search policy on the way in to the ground although on this occasion I wasn’t asked whether I had any keys on me as I was on a previous visit. Inside Selhurst Park the catering staff were wearing “Cult heroes” sweat shirts bearing Luther’s picture. How very wonderful. There was also a deck at one of the windows just outside the Ladies’ loo which was blasting out music at a ridiculous volume. I’m too old for that sort of thing.
Team news was that Flores had made four changes from Spurs. Unsurprisingly, Deeney was restored to the starting line-up. Also, there was no sign of Jurado which, without having heard the reasoning, tended to indicate an injury. This meant a first start for Amrabat and I was intrigued to see how he would fit in alongside both Deeney and Ighalo. The starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Capoue, Watson, Behrami, Deeney, Amrabat and Ighalo. Former Watford loanee, Jordon Mutch, started for Palace and lovely Aidy Mariappa was on the bench.
I am the only person I know that loves going to Selhurst Park. My reasoning is that there is always a great atmosphere and, in days gone by when our away following was not as it is now, you could choose where to position yourself and I was usually able to join a group standing and singing at the back. However, the increase in numbers in the travelling support now means that you are stuck with your assigned seat and, when all are standing in front of you, those of us who are on the short side or, even worse, those that struggle to stand are only able to see very small sections of the pitch, which meant that my notes were rather sparse.
Nothing happened of note in the first quarter of an hour until Capoue played a lovely cross field ball to Aké whose cross was blocked. As the resulting corner came in, play stopped and most of us in the away end assumed that the home side had been awarded a free kick. But it soon became apparent that the referee had pointed to the spot and the chants went up for Deeney who stepped up in front of the hostile Holmesdale Road end, sent Hennessey the wrong way and buried the penalty in the corner. During the goal celebration, someone behind me let off a flare which brings into question the effectiveness of the stringent crowd searches outside the ground. Palace tried to hit back almost immediately as Cabaye hit a volley from outside the area that Gomes had to turn around the post. The next goal attempt from the home side was a looping shot that was straight into the arms of Gomes. Some lovely play from the Hornets came to nothing as a pass from Deeney, intended to release Capoue, was a little too heavy and went out for a throw. Soon after, Deeney exchanged passes with Ighalo before shooting over the target. At the other end, a dangerous looking cross from Wickham flew over the head of Dann as Aké challenged. Watford looked to increase their lead as Deeney found Ighalo whose shot was saved by the feet of Hennessey, but Palace couldn’t clear and, when the ball came back into the box, Amrabat had a shot from close range but, again, the keeper saved.
Watford threatened again as Deeney headed a free kick from Watson on to Ighalo who volleyed over the target. There was another lovely break from the Hornets, a cross field ball was played to Capoue who played it back inside, but nobody would shoot and, finally, Hennessey gathered. Deeney was putting in a real captain’s shift and was next to be seen back in defence shepherding a ball in the box back to Gomes. Unbelievably, the home side were level just before half time. A throw came into the box and the Watford defence stopped, possibly claiming a goal kick as the ball looked to be going out of play, but it was recovered and played out to Wickham who crossed for Adebayor to head over Gomes. The goal had come from nothing and it was typical that it came from a player who had been linked with us in the transfer window.
At half time, there was some frustration that we were not leading as we had dominated the half. It had been a poor half of football, but any quality there was had come from the visitors, the home side had been utterly dreadful. Given the lack of entertainment on the field, I was rather annoyed that I had reached my seat too late to see the eagle performing prior to the game which is always rather lovely.
Palace made a substitution at the start of the second half, replacing Wickham with Lee. The home side made a lively start as Zaha went on a run down the left wing and whipped in a cross that landed in the arms of Gomes. At the other end, a free kick from Watson towards Deeney was headed clear by Jedinak. Watford threatened again as Amrabat picked up a misplaced pass and found Deeney, but the pass was a bit short and Troy was unable to get in position to shoot. Nyom, who was having a terrible game, gave the ball away to Zaha whose cross, thankfully, was cleared. A dangerous cross from Souaré eluded Gomes, but Cathcart was on hand to clear with some help from the keeper. Gomes was then called into action twice in quick succession. First to block a shot from Adebayor, then to pull off a flying save to keep a long range shot from Mutch out of the top corner. A free kick from Watson bounced off a succession of heads in the box before being cleared. Then Zaha went on a dangerous counter attack, but this time Nyom was in the right place and headed his cross clear. At the other end Deeney broke free and exchanged passes with Ighalo before trying a shot that was blocked, his follow-up drifted tamely wide of the post. Watford’s first substitution came just after the hour mark as Abdi replaced Amrabat, who hadn’t made much of a mark on the game. Watford had a decent chance to regain the lead as a Watson free kick reached Aké at the far post but he was sliding in to shoot and the ball flew wide.
Flores’ second substitution saw Capoue make way for Suárez while, for the home side, there was an attacking change as Campbell replaced Mutch. From a corner, Adebayor threatened the Watford goal again, but this time Gomes pushed the header clear. At the other end Deeney found Ighalo in the box, he couldn’t shoot so moved it on to Aké whose shot was saved by the sprawling Hennessey. Deeney’s next attempt on goal was blocked by Ighalo, always a frustrating sight. The first booking of the game went to Suárez who was cautioned for bringing down Ward. Palace had a decent chance with a free kick from Lee that Gomes did well to save. But it was Watford who regained the lead on 82 minutes, as a Watson cross found Deeney at the far post, he took a touch before shooting past Hennessey and provoking mayhem in the away end. “Trooy Deeney, Watford’s number nine.” The visitors tried to extend the lead as Abdi looked for Ighalo with a cross, but the Palace defence shut the Nigerian out. In the last minute of normal time, a corner was cleared to Cabaye on the edge of the box, his powerful shot was pushed onto the post by Gomes and a follow up from Zaha flew harmlessly over the target. There was shock in the away end when the fourth official indicated 5 minutes of added time. Where had that come from? The first chance in injury time came as Adebayor broke forward and shot, but it was easy for Gomes. At the other end, Abdi combined with Deeney and Ighalo before unleashing a shot that came back off his team mate.
Despite it happening directly in front of where I was standing, I didn’t see Souaré’s tackle on Behrami, but it was clear from the reaction of those who could see that it had been a poor challenge and the referee had no hesitation in showing the red card. So the home side played the last minute of time added on with 10 men. They had one final chance to draw level as a cross from Zaha was met by the head of Ward, but he directed his header over the bar and the Hornets left South London with all three points.
Palace put in a considerably better performance in the second half, with Zaha giving Nyom a torrid time down the left wing, but the win was probably a fair result and Deeney’s second goal a pleasingly moment of quality to win the game. Neither Amrabat nor Suárez made much of an impression, with the stand out performances being from old hands Deeney and Gomes with a special mention for Behrami, who continues to impress in the midfield.
When the final whistle went, Pete said, “We’re safe,” and, while that is not mathematically certain, the teams in 17th and 18th are 12 points behind us with a considerably worse goal difference, so it is hard to see them catching us. Time to concentrate on the cup!!